“The preacher was more than wise, teaching knowledge to the people, but he balanced and straightened many proverbs.”
At the beginning of our reflections on Ecclesiastes, we discussed the proofs of Solomon’s authorship; here is just one more proof of the same. Who, but Solomon, organized the Proverbs that we have? Indeed, if the preacher here in Ecclesiastes is the same teacher as who organized the Proverbs, it can be no one other than Solomon who has authored this text. Not that this should be a hard sell, but simply a reminder of the trustworthiness of the tradition behind King Solomon’s authorship.
But what does it mean when the text says he “balanced and straightened” the proverbs? One must recall that the proverbs are not just words that were written by Solomon, but he accumulated wise sayings from his generation and from the generations before him. In addition, he grouped and ordered them in a useful fashion and further, it can be supposed, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he corrected the statements that were skewed somewhat because they originated in a pagan culture. That is the work of balancing and straightening in this context.
And so, what is Solomon’s crowning achievement? Most of the time people think of the Temple or of his wealth — both rightly attributed. Yet, Solomon’s crowning achievement was neither of these things — it was his role in teaching wisdom to the people, in his case, through three books of the Bible and two Psalms (72 & 127). Other things are important, but this is the most important aspect of his life — and in these aspects, Solomon points us toward Christ.
How often, the goal of the pastor is to build an empire for himself — leave a reputation behind as a great preacher or as a faithful caregiver to the sick and dying. And while these are very important roles in the life of the pastor, his first job is to faithfully teach wisdom to the people of God. Sadly, this is sometimes the least appreciated aspect of his ministry simply because this is what he ordinarily does week in and week out in all of his interactions. Paul instructs Timothy that he is to strive to “rightly handle the Word of Truth”… Qoheleth (the Preacher) does…may that be said of those of us who pastor and of those who are our pastors. Let our names be forgotten and our empires never emerge from the dirt, but let us teach wisdom to the children of God who are eager to listen and learn.